The rental of exhibition stands or rooms in exhibition or congress buildings, when located within Switzerland (i.e. Swiss tax territory), is an example of the transfer of immovable property and parts of immovable property for use or exploitation. Contrary to the standard VAT treatment applicable on the transfer of immovable property and parts of immovable property for use or exploitation, the rental of exhibition stands or rooms in exhibition/congress buildings within Switzerland is by law subject to Swiss VAT (i.e. not exempted). Consequently, foreign companies that rent in Switzerland exhibition space or meetings rooms (in exhibition/congress buildings) will as a rule be charged Swiss VAT, which they can recover in the scope of the Swiss VAT refund regulation for foreign companies -provided the requirements are fulfilled.
Article 21 Par. 2 No. 21 letter f Swiss VAT Act determines that the renting of exhibition stands and individual rooms in exhibition and congress buildings is taxable. The latter VAT treatment is formulated as an exception of the exemption applicable on the transfer of immovable property and parts of immovable property for use or exploitation. Article 3 letter b Swiss VAT Act defines property (goods) as movable and immovable objects. Additionally, Article 3 letter d No. 3 Swiss VAT Act determines that the transfer of property for use or exploitation is considered to a supply of goods. Consequently, the rental of exhibition space or meetings rooms (in exhibition/congress buildings) in Switzerland is treated for Swiss VAT purposes as a supply of goods. In Swiss VAT Business Sector Info Nr. 17 on Real estate management/rental and sale of real estate, the Swiss tax authorities have devoted a specific -but brief- section to the VAT treatment of rental of exhibition stands or individual rooms.
- tax period: Swiss VAT in invoices for exhibition space must be claimed in connection with the calendar year in which the event took place. Consequently, advance payments made before the calendar year in which the event took place do not qualify for refund for the calendar year in which these payments were made. Instead, refund of Swiss VAT in those invoices must be claimed in the scope of the refund request for the calendar year in which the event took place. The aforementioned also applies to advance payments for accommodation or attendance of conferences/seminars.
- final invoice: invoices for down-payments do -according to the administrative practice of the Swiss tax authorities- as such not qualify for entitlement to Swiss VAT refund. Instead the foreign company must provide the final invoice, i.e. an invoice in which all supplies and payments have been listed. It is recommended to be anticipatory about this issue and inform the supplier in advance that you will need at the end a final invoice- instead of waiting till the VAT refund request is filled or the Swiss tax authorities ask for a final invoice. The aforementioned applies to invoices for exhibition space, but also to invoices for accommodation.
- original invoices: only original invoices entitle to Swiss VAT refund. Emailed invoices in a simple word or pdf format do not entitle to Swiss VAT refund. Only e-invoices that meet the strict requirements for e-invoicing according to the Swiss VAT regulations entitle to Swiss VAT refund. Otherwise the invoices will have to be original paper invoices.
- invoice requirements: the invoice requirements bear a pervasive influence on the result of a Swiss VAT refund request. Invoices must always fulfill the invoice requirements as laid down in Article 26 Par. 2 Swiss VAT Act.
Consequently, the invoice must clearly identify the supplier, the recipient and the nature of the supply (as a rule the invoice must mention the following elements: the name and the location of the supplier in the form in which he presents himself in business transactions; a note that he is registered as a taxable person and the number under which he is entered in the Register of Taxable Persons; the name and location of the recipient of the supply in the form in which he presents himself in business transactions; the date or period of the provision of the supply, in the event that it differs from the invoice date; the nature, object and extent of the supply; the consideration for the supply; the applicable tax rate and the tax amount payable on the consideration; if the consideration includes the tax amount, details of the applicable tax rate will suffice). Restaurant bills or similar tickets (taxi, parking, public transport) that do not fulfill the invoice requirements do not entitle to Swiss VAT refund. In those cases it may be worthwhile to ask the restaurant/supplier to issue a formal invoice (even when the invoice is settled immidiately).
- combined supplies: often the rental of an exhibition space or (e.g.) meeting room induces a need for additional goods/services or comes with ancilliary costs. Depending the character of these additional goods/services respectively the way they have been invoiced, their Swiss VAT treatment may or may not differ from the Swiss VAT treatment of the charge for the exhibition space or (e.g.) meeting room. Only VAT that indeed has been due according to the Swiss VAT regulations can be claimed for refund. Swiss VAT that was charged although not due must be claimed directly from the supplier.
- recharging: a foreign company that attends (as exhibitor) an exhibition in Switzerland, and in that scope rents exhibition space, may be blocked from entitlement to Swiss VAT refund when the foreign company recharges all or part of the costs to a third party. The Swiss VAT treatment of such a recharge would be decisive for the question whether or not, because of the recharge, the foreign company would be considered to have made domestic supplies during the tax period for which Swiss VAT refund is claimed.
A different situation arises when the foreign company, that rented exhibition space in Switzerland, is merely forwarded by a supplier an invoice with Swiss VAT that has been issued by another supplier. Normally, in such situation that invoice will not mention the foreign company as recipient, and consequently is not entitled to refund of the Swiss VAT amount mentioned in that invoice.